Archive For The “Words” Category
we ride the coast starlight down to portland, down the western edge of the country, through washington state and into oregon.
we laugh together and admire the view: the rolling hills and the lumber yards, the towering trees, autumn leaves of every color, the flatlands and eighteen-wheelers, the water towers and piles of dirt, the large estates and secret hideaways, the back-bending bridges stretching over murky bodies of water, empty coffee stands, bikini baristas stuck in the middle of nowhere.
she sizes me up from behind the lens of her camera. she’s luminous but it’s subtle: casually attractive in a comfy red sweater & a modest black skirt. her long, sensuous legs are footed by low-top sneakers with scuffs on the shell-toe. She’s looking up at me with her almost almond-shaped eyes, green and gleaming, smirking and smiling every time i embarrass myself (which is plenty, and often).
her body feels good in my arms, her hands feel soft in mine.
we crack jokes about the Amtrak menu, comically debating whether to order the steamed mussels or the Mexican lasagna (and who cooks it? there’s a chef? on the train? steaming mussels?). somehow it’s hilarious.
i take a picture on my phone of her taking a picture on her phone of the the st. john’s bridge.
we arrive in portland.
our rental is nestled behind a large suburban house in a small neighborhood off Hawthorne, dubbed as a garden studio in the airbnb listing.
Inside, it’s cozy and small, with a tall wooden ladder leading to a tiny loft designated for storage space or spare luggage. in the corner of the room is a full-size bed with a plushy white comforter pushed beneath posters of Mohammed Ali and The Beatles and Dr. King and a quote about endurance from Enzo Ferrari. i find two white robes, all shoulders, hanging large and stiff in a closet, slowly swaying from momentum.
we stroll along the streets of downtown, passing some of the local landmarks, twice sometimes, giddily admiring the scenery – and each other – while snapping photographs and constantly kissing. we purchase notebooks at Powell’s. we explore thrift stores along Hawthorne. we admire the retro furniture at Lounge Lizard. we slip into the photo booth at Ace Hotel and pay for two strips of photos. we stroll through O’Bryant Square. we visit the Chinese Garden but we don’t go in. we talk about sex at waterfront park, overlooking the Williamette River. we enjoy tofu rolls together at Sushi Land. we eat tacos at Sanataria. she buys me breakfast at Jam on Hawthorne where she orders a tofu scramble but can’t finish the hash browns. we visit Voodoo Doughnuts (twice) and order enough vegan doughnuts to make us resent ourselves later. i buy an Italian sub from Charlie’s but don’t eat it. she devours a lettuce-wrapped veggie burger and some french fries tossed in salt and white truffle oil from Little Big Burger.
on the train ride back to Seattle, somebody was already sitting in our assigned seats so we chose new ones on the ocean-side, so we could see the water. she’s revisiting photos from Facebook, Instagram.
my stomach hurts and i can’t stop peeing. i shift in my seat irritably. “Are you done looking through photos from your past?”
she performs a series of thumb swipes. “I’m sorry that I don’t regret my life’s decisions.” the screen of her phone blackens.
“I don’t either,” I lie, too quickly. “I just leave the past where it is.”
she falls asleep on my thigh, her body small in her raincoat, and i run my fingers through her sandy brown hair, massaging and scratching her scalp. a voice mumbles over the loudspeaker, delivering a crackling monologue that awakens her.
later I crane my neck to inspect the setting sun, the melting colors, reddish-orange and yellow and baby blue, slowly dipping behind the trees and mountain. I twist my head back around, readjusting my seat, turning away from the sunset without really appreciating it.
It’s hard to miss Lee Daniels.
Forget the pastel polos, the black rimmed glasses or the Don King-like hair – his personality alone demands attention. As he makes his way toward the table I’m sitting at, jotting down questions, I notice Lee Daniels doesn’t walk. He struts. I notice he doesn’t smile. He gleams.
He exudes the confidence that most first time directors usually hide behind doubt.
But, then again, Lee Daniels is different. And that may be the strongest quality he has. His confidence is the reason everyone within a fifteen foot radius knows Lee Daniels is, well, within a fifteen foot radius.
Although he’s making his directoral debut at the 2nd Anuual Bahamas International Film Festival with his film Shadowboxer, he is nowhere near being a rookie. He produced the Oscar-winning film Monster’s Ball, then followed that success with the critically acclaimed picture The Woodsman.
As Lee Daniels promotes Shadowboxer to whoever will listen, it’s apparent that the hair isn’t the only thing he and Don King have in common. King’s knack for promotion is also there.
“Shadowboxer is my soul,” he emphasizes. “I put my soul into whatever I do. Especially this movie. I put all I could into this.”
His soul wasn’t all he put into the movie. During production, Lee Daniels found himself putting his heart into the movie. Two months ago, the 46-year-old suffered a heart attack at the hands of exhaustion and hard work.
“Directing is… a tsunami,” Daniels laughs. “It’s very humbling. It’s easier to produce, but it’s so much more exciting to direct.”
Despite his success, Daniels’ greatest achievement has nothing to do with the cinema. He’s a proud father, something that makes all of his behind the camera success seem distant.
“That’s my greatest achievement,” Daniels said. “Being a dad.”
As a first time director at a sophomore film festival, Daniels sees positive outlooks for both him and the festival.
“I think the festival is going to grow and grow,” he said. “(Festival founder) Leslie Vanderpool has done a phenomenal job putting groups of people together. I think the future festivals will attract many people.”
As for him?
“I’ve got a couple movies left in me,” Daniels grins, the ultimate magician talking about future tricks up his sleeve. “I’m producing a new film called Tennesse and co-directing another with Lenny Kravitz.”
Despite a late start as a director, Daniels doesn’t take anything for granted. After his near-death experience, Daniels has developed a relationship with God and realizes how fortunate his is, not only to direct, but to still be alive.
“I’ve realized I’m very blessed,” Daniels said. “I’m trying to keep focus in prayer. I’m finding out what happiness is.”
WELCOME TO PARADISE is carved into the black metal door of an unusually clean bathroom stall I’d stopped in at the Nassau International Airport. I was wide awake and sweating, having worn a very chic (but obviously too heavy) pea coat while flying out of Detroit.
Accompanying me was my cinematographer friend, Tom, along for the ride to cover his first film festival, in the Bahamas no less, and like me, at the ripe age of 18. The only thing I could think of, as I ripped off a long swath of toilet paper to mop the sweat from my brow, were the words etched into the door…
WELCOME TO PARADISE.
And then I remembered to flush the toilet.
The Bahamas International Film Festival is in it’s sophomore attempt, following the success (and disorganization) of it’s debut. This year’s festival boasted the appearance of Spike Lee nearly five months in advance with the plan to honor him with a Career Achievement Award. Although Spike Lee didn’t make the festival (bad weather in the Big Apple, maybe?), the disappointment was tempered by a variety of films, non-stop events and promising filmmakers.
Here are the facts: Among the featured guests of the festival were Anthony Mackie, Rick Fox and Jeffery Wright, the latter of which was also unable to attend.
Among the events, hosted by Atlantis, were dessert receptions (with free buffets and bars), festive parties (with free buffets and champagne) and opening/closing night galas (with FOUR free buffets and TWO bars). Among the films were Zozo, Stander, Among Brothers, Antibodies, The Birthday Boy, The Big Question, Shadowboxer, Mrs. Henderson Presents, The Matador, Broken Flowers, 25th Hour and many, many more. Although the festival lacked Spike, it was able to get out of the dark thanks to the cinematic talents of bright (although, perhaps, yet unknown) filmmakers.
And there I sat, notepad in hand, watching the whole thing unfold.
The festival opened on December 8, with a meet-and-greet for the press and filmmakers. I had already received my press pass, the golden ticket that got me instant access all over the fun-factory that is known as Atlantis. Tom’s first question was, “Where’s Spike?” My first question was, “Where’s the rum?”
I sat outside on the patio at Plato’s, a tony lounge at Atlantis, slouched in my chair, scanning the crowd. Of the festival’s guests, I happened to be one of the few press members covering the event for the second time. Despite my knowledge of film (IMDB is my homepage) and my familiarity with this particular film festival (I toasted champagne with Anthony Mackie, opening night, last year), I’m still regarded as a young “kid” who seems to be looked upon more as a tourist than a journalist.
Regardless of this mistaken identity, the festival’s participants seem to cloak me in, I’ve been told I exude a somewhat confident aura about myself, which apparently entices filmmakers and fellow members of the press to talk to me.
I immediately met Josef Fares, the Swedish director responsible for over 50 short films and four features. He was screening his latest film Zozo. I also met Lee Daniels, the producer of Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman. Lee was showing his directorial debut, Shadowboxer, which stars Cuba Gooding, Jr.
I was able to meet the few members of the press that actually did attend the event, including one from New York and another from Chicago. The place was also buzzing with fans of filmmakers, particularly Spike Lee. These were fans who had traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to see Mr. Lee in person.
Despite Mr. Lee’s absence, I was determined to get a story. So there I was, in the middle of everything. The youngest “reporter” at the festival, constantly taking notes and flashing my festival pass, which bore my name bold and strong, hanging over my chest like Superman’s logo.
After the meet-and-greet and hours of studying the festival promotional packet, memorizing names, plots and screening times, I found myself at the Versace Pre-Screening Cocktail Reception. Held at the Cloisters, a scenic garden resplendent with lush foliage, the event offered an opportunity for filmmakers and members of the press to get to know each other. I chatted it up with people while snacking on an array of sumptuous appetizers ornately arranged on buffet tables scattered throughout the garden. Beautiful statues and even more beautiful models, wearing the latest Versace fashions, posed under the green lights that cast their glow over the entire event.
There, I met a Post Page 6 writer from New York who was at the festival with his wife and their baby, whom he cradled in his arms while eating chicken kabobs. Deeper in the crowd Rick Fox, the authentically Bahamian L.A. Lakers star, stood tall in a designer suit, talking to members of the festival’s A-list.
I made my way over, introduced myself and told him I’m a fan of his, having seen him in the Whoopi Goldberg film, Eddie. Rick smiled genuinely and shook my hand.
I then saw Josef Fares again and raised a champagne glass in a toast. I discussed the Bush Administration with Bahamian Gus Smith, director of the short satire on the same topic titled Crude. Later, on the ride to the theatre I sat in front of Anthony Mackie, whom I had interviewed last year, and complimented him on his performance in the Spike Lee directed Showtime movie, Sucker Free City.
That evening, the festival shifted from the Cloisters to the Atlantis Theatre, a huge theatre located in the Beach Tower of the sprawling resort. Broken Flowers was the opening night film. Since I’ve seen it before (alone, after my girlfriend dumped me), Tom and I decided to hit the casino, where we lost our weight in quarters after a long stretch of up and down luck with the slot machines. We did end up getting plenty of free drinks from the friendly cocktail servers.
Following the screening, we headed to Atlantis’ Lagoon Bar and Grill which played host to the dessert receptions. People gathered in the large outdoor patio area flanked with with rows of tables filled with complimentary desserts and two open bars. Tom and I went back and forth between the party and Dragons, the nightclub located in the Atlantis Casino, with side trips to the quarter slot machines in between. We met a guy from Canada, named Matt, who we helped sneak into the dessert reception. He regarded us as celebrities, which made me feel better because I was being shunned repeatedly by the festival’s A-list.
The next day I woke up and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the filmmakers lounge, devouring a cinnamon roll, a bagel and a cup of strong coffee.
Tom and I then caught the 12:30pm showing of Josef Fares’ film, Zozo. The film, which follows the journey of a young boy from Lebanon to Sweden, was very well received.
That evening, Caves Village, out on West Bay Street, hosted a Bahamian Themed Night which erupted into a Junkanoo celebration. Dancers and musicians marched through the large open spaces, exciting the crowd who was enjoying food from Ristorante Villaggio and complimentary Heinekens being dispensed by two gorgeous Heineken Girls wearing Santa hats. Rick Fox bobbed his head to the music while everyone else only seemed interested in having their picture taken with him. Anthony Mackie perused the tables featuring hand-made Bahamian arts and crafts.
While enjoying a cigarette in solitude (Tom was chatting with Marq Morrison – director of Into the Air – about the Heineken girls), I introduced myself to Bima Stagg, a stout man with a large beard and shaggy hair. He invited me to a screening of the film he wrote, Stander, which was due to screen at the Galleria, a theatre across town, the next morning at 10:00am. He addressed me as the “one from Detroit” before learning my name and said he would be pleased to see me at the screening, if I could wake up that early. Not knowing if I should be offended or flattered, I accepted and shook his hand.
Waking the next morning at 9, I quietly got dressed as Tom was mumbling something about phone calls in his sleep. I loaded up on cinnamon rolls and coffee (again) before climbing aboard the empty shuttle headed to the Galleria Cinema.
I arrived at the theatre fifteen minutes early, the timing suggested on the back of my press pass. I sat in the nearly empty theatre for an hour before the film started. Bima Stagg acknowledged me and sat in the back.
One hundred and sixteen minutes later I become enlightened. In my mind, Stander was the best film shown at the festival (it went on to win the Audience’s Award). I was thoroughly moved by the performance of Thomas Jane and the directing of Bronwen Hughes.
Since the shuttle back to Atlantis was late and would have further delayed my schedule (I had an interview with Lee Daniels scheduled to start in 30 minutes), I eagerly (maybe too eagerly?) accepted a ride back to the resort offered to me by Bima Stagg. Bima was driving in a private car with Anthony Mackie riding shotgun. I rode along, chatting with Bima about Stander and Hollywood, as I relished the opportunity to get up close with two of the featured guests at the festival.
Upon my arrival at Atlantis, I barely had time to take a shower and prepare for my interview with Lee Daniels. I quickly jotted down a few notes and questions while walking to the filmmaker’s lounge. Tom, carrying his sophisticated GL2 video camera, followed hurriedly behind, smoking a cigarette.
Lee Daniels is the 46-year-old debut director of Shadowboxer, one of five Special Screenings at this year’s festival. Our interview was brief but insightful as the animated director slapped his own face while debating which side of his personality he wanted to express more (his black side or his “queen” side). He also had us laughing when he compared his thick, slicked back hair to that of actor/rapper Andre “3000” Benjamin.
After our interview, I lounged around Atlantis’ Sports Center, where I enjoyed an apple and worked on movie reviews. This was actually my back-up plan after I refused to spend $40 to use a treadmill. I had about an hour to kill before the Spike Lee Tribute Ceremony at 8 o’clock. I thought about the Oscar season that’s quickly approaching, and hurriedly wrote down my picks. Brokeback Mountain, King Kong and Syriana top my list. I also thought about this film festival and the films that may have the potential to be great: Stander, Zozo, Shadowboxer. I also thought about how this festival, which seemed to snub the local media, was actually being snubbed by the major media in return.
I was dwelling on the irony of all this, identifying the bullet that the festival is shooting itself in the foot with, when a bikini-clad beauty (maybe a Versace model from the Cloisters?) pulled up a lounge chair a few feet from me. She noticed my press pass and smiled. I noticed her blue eyes and introduced myself.
Later, I found myself sitting in the second row of the Atlantis Theatre, directly behind Anthony Mackie and Rick Fox, playing with my digital camera and trying to spark small talk with the brunette bombshell to my left. I introduced myself to a couple from Illinois who traveled down to the Bahamas solely to see Spike Lee. Shortly after we received the news that Mr. Lee wasn’t able to make it to the festival, a loud groan filled the theatre and more than a few seats emptied. I just sat back and relaxed as festival founder Leslie Vanderpool introduced Karin Durbin, a film critic and journalist. The audience watched a highlight reel of Spike Lee’s work, including clips from Do The Right Thing, Get on the Bus!, 25th Hour, Jungle Fever and He Got Game, which starred Rick Fox.
After the long, well edited sampling of Lee’s work, members of the festival shared their experiences on working with Spike Lee. Anthony Mackie reflected on his nude scene in She Hate Me. Rick Fox talked about his audition for He Got Game. The crowd, disappointed and possibly aggravated at Mr. Lee’s no-show, watched in boredom. When the question and answer segment started, only one woman had a question, with most people just waiting for the session to end. As soon as the event was over, the theatre quickly emptied, only slightly refilling for the screening of Mrs. Henderson Presents.
Because I had stayed to watch a tribute to Spike Lee without Spike Lee, I missed the screening of Shadowboxer, despite promising Lee Daniels I’d be there.
Disappointed and more than a little irritated, I went to the casino and proceeded to lose a few more bucks. Tom, on the other hand, got hot and won $25. We hung out at Dragons, our press passes dangling around our necks while dancing to ‘okay’ music and making friends with ease. We skipped the Late Night Gathering at the Hard Rock Cafe which I quickly heard was a waste of time. I got to sleep fairly early and prepared myself for the final day of the Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival.
Sunday, December 11: I had promised John Schwert, the co-writer and director of Among Brothers, that I’d check out the film and interview him and the principle cast afterwards. Although the film failed to wow me, I enjoyed the story and respected the dedication by Schwert. I sat for an interview with him, Matt Mercer and Corey Cicci, the top two billed actors. They thanked me profusely and we stuck around the theatre, talking about nothing in particular (North Carolina basketball, Adobe editing software, people who are jerks). We all caught a shuttle back to Atlantis, where I ran into festival founder Leslie Vanderpool, whose sudden interest must have had something to do with Tom’s footage of Lee Daniels and the festival’s events. I smiled and nodded, never looking up from the book I was reading (American Psycho).
Upon our return to Atlantis I headed over to the filmmakers lounge and ended up sitting around with Eddie Mensore, the writer/director of arguably the best short film at the festival, The Birthday Boy. We sipped Rum Punch, before switching to Heinekens, when Josef Fares and Fransesco Cabras (director; The Big Question) join us. We sat there for a few hours, throwing back drinks and talking about films – from Paul Thomas Anderson to the music of Vincent Gallo – we all seemed to have the same taste. Tom bought a carton of cigarettes for $25 after having paid $6 a pack since we arrived. After toasting our Heinekens and simultaneously cheering “To next year!” our large group walked from the Royal Towers to the Beach Towers and into the Atlantis Theatre.
There, I sat next to Josef Fares and turned Tom’s GL2 on. Tom was outside smoking a cigarette, so I was manning the camera. After a speech by Leslie Vanderpool, the first award was presented: the Spirit of Freedom Award for a Narrative Film. Zozo, Josef Fares’ film, won and I jerked the camera directly into Josef’s face as he smiled and walked past the row of chairs on his way up to the stage. He took a spill while walking up the stairs to accept the award (blaming it on his shoes and the beer). Other winners included Stander (Audience Award), Antibodies (New Visions Award) and La Sierra (Spirit of Freedom Documentary Award).
After the short award ceremony, the film festival closed with The Matador, a great film starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. It was the perfect film to close the festival with; well structured, well acted, sharply directed filmmaking that received uproarious applause.
The festival’s guests were then transported to the Beach Tower’s Ballroom alongside another Junkanoo parade, which filled the hallways of Atlantis with the pounding rhythm of cow-skin drums and ear splitting horns. I toasted champagne with the festival’s best one last time, smiling and laughing, enjoying our final moments together at this year’s festival.
As I watched the palm trees and patches of pavement roll past my small window on my flight out of the Bahamas I was left with pleasant memories of an emerging film festival. Although some of the organizer’s tactics and treatment of the media seemed questionable, the merging of paradise and cinema was the perfect escape from the harsh realities of a vicious Michigan winter. I gazed out the window as the palm trees disappeared beneath the clouds, knowing that when I opened my eyes again, all I’d see is snow covered cars adorned with parking tickets (it’s Detroit, there’s nowhere to park legally).
The Second Annual Bahamas International Film Festival, like all events everywhere, had its ups and downs. Late shuttles and delayed screenings were the biggest complaint, following the disappointing absence of Spike Lee. But the biggest problem this film festival may have had, was the lack of press coverage they received from the international media. Thank God for the local media (like the one I work for) or there’d have been basically no coverage of the festival at all.
Watching the snow fall here in Detroit, all I have now are fond memories of my three days in paradise, where despite being routinely dismissed by the festival PR coordinator, the youngest members of the press core turned out to be among the only ones who brought much needed international attention to the fledgling festival.
One day, Anthony Mackie will be the one of the greatest actors in Hollywood.
He’ll be swarmed by agents, mobbed by fans and have enough Oscar statues to play chess with. His name will be top billing in box office hits that will attract half the world into the theatre.
But, right now, he’s just an optimistic actor from New Orleans, sitting next to me, gulping a Jack and Coke at the Bahamas International Film Festival.
“In five years I hope I’m blown up,” Mackie laughs, stirring his drink. ”I just want to continue to do diverse and interesting roles. Continue to do one play a year, continue to do three films a year.”
Mackie is evolving into a star, using his on-screen presence to turn ordinary films into extraordinary ones. In his film debut, the smash-hit 8 Mile, Mackie took the role of Eminem’s cross-town rival Papa Doc and made you absolutely hate him. In his two latest films, Spike Lee’s She Hate Me and Rodney Evans’ Brother to Brother, Mackie hasn’t just shown that he can really act, but that he’s one of the most versatile young actors in Hollywood.
“I’m on my way to that,” Mackie tells me, concerning his flexibility as an actor. “Well, like a few more projects and I might get up there. But, now, I wish.”
In Brother to Brother, Mackie plays Terry, a gay teenager who befriends an older black writer at a homeless shelter. The film has received critical acclaim for both the picture itself and Mackie’s too-good-to-be-true performance.
“I did a lot of research for Brother to Brother,” Mackie explains. “Like when (Marlon) Brando did Streetcar, he used to stand outside of strips clubs and watch men come in and out. When I read that, it tripped me out. So when I was doing this film, a friend of mine showed me this gay club and I used to stand outside and watch the men come in and out. I would watch their movements and everything like that. I just applied that to my work and didn’t judge it.”
Mackie’s other latest feature is Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, a politically driven film that deals with everything from whistleblowers to same-sex parenting. In the film, Mackie somehow finds himself in the middle of a moral dilemma as his successful life turns into a whirlwind of confusion. Playing a recently fired, desperate young executive who impregnates women for $10,000 each in one film, and a homeless gay teenager in the other, Mackie discovered similarities between directors Spike Lee and Rodney Evans, which helped him develop each character.
“Well it’s interesting, they just have similar styles of work,” Mackie said, leaning forward. “Rodney had a very specific vision about this film. It was basically him setting the performance on the actors. Where as with Spike, he casts people because of their ability and he works with that to form the character. So, Spike’s more of an actor’s director, where as Rodney’s really a director’s director.”
Mackie’s film resume includes cameos in The Manchurian Candidate, with Denzel Washington, and upcoming films such as Million Dollar Baby, with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, plus The Man with Samuel L. Jackson. He has worked with some of the best actors in the world, enhancing his own technique by observing the work of others.
“I would just hone in on my own working process by watching their process,” he tells me. ”And how to treat people.”
I ask him to explain that.
“When Sam (Jackson) got on the set everybody knew it because he knew everybody’s name. He made sure everybody was upbeat and cool. He was cracking jokes on everybody, cracking jokes with everybody. Everybody was cracking jokes on him. They really taught me, when you get to that level, how to treat people to make them want to come to work.”
For now, Anthony Mackie is cast into roles that either save or make the films, something that helps establish himself as one of the best young actors of Hollywood’s new generation.
When asked how he gets those roles, how he has met these people, he sums up his acting career in three words.
“I’ve been lucky.”
Originally Written For BahamasB2B.com